Monsters University -2013-

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Directed by Dan Scanlon. 103 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Seen for free at the AMC Promenade 16)

I’m happy to report that Monsters University is not the lazy cash-in that I expected it to be. While it’s not Pixar at its all-time best, it’s my favorite film from the studio since 2010’s Toy Story 3 and is a considerable narrative and visual leap above its predecessor, 2001’s Monsters, Inc.

It’s pretty nutty to think that Pixar is making follow-ups to its films, largely (though, of course, not entirely) aimed at children, after spans of time in which fans of the originals have grown up. Christ, I was eleven when Monster’s, Inc. first hit the scene. I first saw the original Toy Story at age six after a Thanksgiving dinner with my family in Cleveland.

I first saw Toy Story 3 at age 21 after watching Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive while on a movie binge in Berkeley. I don’t know why I remember that specific detail.

Monsters University has enough references to the original to bring back fond memories for franchise fans but stands perfectly well on its own two feet. Billy Crystal and John Goodman (among a few other cast originals) return as Mike and Sulley, and their characters are much more interesting – and more flawed – than in the original installment.

Now that merchandising revenues are pretty much a guarantee, Pixar focuses on the style more than the substance. Monsters, Inc. had flat characters and an incoherent plot – it’s a nice distraction, but anyone who loves the film has poor taste in film (yes, I’m totally comfortable making that sweeping generalization).

Conversely, character development is heavily woven into the action of Monsters University – it’s a surprisingly robust tale about the amorality of life, the fear of failure, the dwindling relevance of institutions of higher education, and how pretty much everyone (yes, even me and you) is an asshole in their freshman year of college.

Aside: “The Blue Umbrella,” the short film preceding MU, is reliably wonderful.

(Seen and originally written on 2013-07-25)